January 5, 1969 – The Irish have inhabited the area along the banks of the River Foyle for thousands of years. The town that grew along the banks became known as Derry. In the 1600’s, during the Plantation of Ulster by British Imperialist, the city was officially renamed Londonderry to help the British invaders to feel more secure in this foreign land. To the British Protestants it was Londonderry, but to the Irish is always was, and always will be, Derry.
“The Troubles” of modern Northern Ireland began in 1968 with Irish Catholics demonstrating for Civil Rights. On January 1, 1969, in a scene reminiscent of Selma, Alabama, a small group of protestors set out from Belfast on a march to Derry. Along the way the were viciously attacked numerous times by Protestant loyalist and the police. The marchers were pelted by stones and beaten with sticks with nails poking out. When the marchers reached Derry, they gathered to hold a rally and rioting broke out. The police, almost all Protestant, known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary(RUC), move into the Catholic area known as Bogside and rioted themselves and attacked residents and damaged their homes. To protect themselves, the Nationalists built barricades to keep the police out and declared the area “Free Derry“. The barricades came down after a couple of days, but the area became a stronghold of the Irish Republican movement. In August, the “Battle of Bogside” occurred when British soldiers became involved. Free Derry, fiercely defended by the IRA, became a “no-go” for the British Army until 1972 when severe force was used to regain control. Eventually, hostilities subsided, but the struggle for a free and united Ireland continue today, and Free Derry remains in the hearts and minds of many. As much a state of mind as a place.